Someone asked me a long time ago why I put so much effort into making a garden when it would be cheaper to buy produce at the market.
I don’t remember who said that. It’s likely that I’m no longer friends with that person. Anyone who could ask such a stupid question is not a likely candidate for long term friendship.
There are times, however, when I’m tempted to ask the same of myself. The question surfaces in the spring when I discover that the ground has yielded yet another bumper crop of rocks. Where do they come from? They certainly weren’t there in the fall. They must issue forth from the smallest of pebbles left behind as seed, watered by the winter rains and heaved to the surface by freezing and thawing ground.
Potatoes at the grocery store seem cheap when you’re humping a wheelbarrow full of rocks up a hill. But when you compare the taste of a grocery potato to a homegrown spud freshly dug, a potato quite remarkable for its tenderness and creamy consistency and it’s ability to absorb butter like a sponge, the grocery store variety would seem to be a different species entirely.
And while we’re singing the praises of the nightshade family, anyone who has grown tomatoes at home will tell you without hesitation that they taste nothing like the flavorless hybrids gassed in the truck on the ride up from Florida.
There are other tangible benefits of the home garden. We are reminded of one of them every time there is a new recall or an outbreak of food-borne disease. The quality of the produce you can grow at home is unmatched. Plus you simply cannot find the variety of flavors in the market that is available when you grow heirlooms at home.
In the age of wage slavery, however, the number of people who have time or energy to grow a significant contribution to their own larder is diminishing. But there are intangible benefits as well. “There is something very grounding about working in the soil,” quipped a friend of mine who likes to poke fun at talk show psychology. But he has a point. During the last two weeks of the planting season, we have enjoyed a profound sense of peace.
“That’s probably because we’ve been too tired to worry about anything,” says my wife. But there’s nothing wrong with being tired when you sleep like one of the many rocks we have birthed this spring. We’re spending more time outdoors. We haven’t watched the news very much, or worried about the elections or the state of the world. The sound and fury of the pixel world, so hungry for our attention while it schemes to pick our pockets, has quietened down to a murmur, and when I stood in the garden the other evening and watched the first stars appearing in the sky, the vanity of that thing we call civilization seemed but an eddy, a temporary disturbance on the surface of an eternal river.
I’m beginning to understand what my grandfather knew. I remember seeing him in his early 90’s, standing in his garden with a hoe in each hand. He would lean on one for support while he chopped with the other, and then alternate. Then he would stand in rapt attention looking, simply looking at the mountain. He didn’t use the word, “meditate,” but his attention was just as peaceful, just as profound, and timeless. And at 90 years old he could still push a wheelbarrow full of rocks up a hill.